10 questions to ask while developing a food plan

Overeaters Anonymous has no official food plan. This baffles some newcomers because they have experienced dieting programs that supply paying members with plans of eating and sometimes offer foods to purchase for those plans.

In OA, every member is encouraged to develop their own food plan. But just because there’s no single food plan doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tried-and-true guidelines. Many of these can be found in the pamphlets “A Plan of Eating” and “Dignity of Choice” (both of which are included in the OA newcomers packet and are available individually at OA. org), and some local member experience adds some ideas as well. Here are 10 questions we often ask ourselves when coming up with a food plan.

  1. Am I working with a sponsor?
    We start here because if we aren’t working with a sponsor, we’re just trying to control our food on our own. That’s never worked for us before, so involving our sponsor is an important, new difference between OA and our best efforts.
  2. Do I need to consult a medical or dietary professional?
    Before we think specifically about our food plan, we need to know whether there are any foods our doctor asks us to avoid eating due to physiological (allergies), medical (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, diverticulitis) or medication-interaction issues. Similarly, our doctor may ask us to add certain foods to promote better overall health. A dietary professional may also recommend foods to rebalance our nutrition.
  3. What are my red, yellow, and green foods?
    This simple metaphor comes in handy. Red foods are specific foods or food groups that we obsess about. We can’t stop eating them once we start, and we can’t stop from starting to eat them. Yellow foods are ones we should watch because they creep up on us. They may also be foods that prime the pump for red foods. Green foods are the ones we can eat in safety.
  4. What about alcohol?
    Many people find sugar- and flour-based foods go in the red category. Sugar and flour are simply highly-refined grain-based foods. There’s something about the process of refining foods that many members’ bodies cannot resist. Alcohol is a liquid form of highly refined grains that are fermented in the presence of sugar. Are we clinging to alcohol? If so, it may be wise to eliminate it.
  5. How much food do I need to eat?
    OA’s statement on abstinence includes not only avoiding individual binge foods but also “working toward or maintaining a healthy body weight.” In OA it’s not enough to simply stop eating our binge foods if we are replacing their high with another kind of high that comes with high-volume eating. It is wise to ask a doctor or dietary professional to recommend the amount of food to eat to lose weight safely and effectively.
  6. How often do I need to eat?
    While a good rule of thumb to get started is simply eating three square meals a day, every member’s metabolism is different. Some of us may need to eat smaller meals more often during the day. It’s OK to eat at whatever cadence works for our own bodies so long as we are not eating more than our body needs as a result.
  7. Do I need to avoid any specific eating behaviors?
    Our bulimic and anorexic friends recognize that this question addresses binge-and-purge symptoms and starving. In addition, we might ask ourselves about more subtle symptoms. Some of the behaviors that members in our meetings discuss are eating directly from packaging or containers, eating anywhere other than a table, and eating standing up. We need to identify any such behaviors to avoid, and they are different for everyone.
  8. Do I need to avoid any specific eating situations?
    Here we need to suss out whether we need to keep away from scenarios that trigger compulsive eating. For example, eating at restaurants, parties, or in the car on long trips. Do we need to avoid eating in front of the TV, in bed, or when we are reading? What about at night when we are alone in the house? In a certain room of the house? With certain people? Or at the grocery store? When we are mad, sad, or glad? The list is as long as there are OA members because we each have our own triggering events or situations.
  9. Does this plan fit my life circumstances?
    There’s not much point to to committing to a food plan that involves preparing five-course, preparation-intensive meals if we are a single mom of three working two jobs. It’s setting us up for failure. We need to be sure that our food plan matches the time and energy we have available instead of trying to live up to some lofty ideal and drowning in a sea of chopping, shopping, and sobbing.
  10. How honest am I willing to be?
    This is the toughest question of them all. We’ve spent a lifetime denying our problem, minimizing it, or ignoring it. So how’s this food plan thing going to work if we’ve been inherently dishonest about our eating since forever? It starts with willingness. Are we willing to trust another person to be an accountability partner each day? Are we willing to trust the folks at my meetings when I need to talk about how my food is going? Are we willing to endure the initial turbulence as our body and minds detox? Are we willing to work the 12 Steps in order to insure against relapse? Lastly, are we willing to begin leading a new life that’s really worth living in all the ways our life isn’t when we walk through the doors of OA? Take it from those who have experienced the miracle of healing. It’s all worth it, and so are we.

Tradition of the Month: Specialness from inclusivity

3. The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

Remember those mens jackets from the 1980s that had the epaulet-like straps on their shoulders? No? What if I asked you to remember a Members Only jacket? Of course! Now you remember with ease. Those little bits of fabric served zero useful functions for the wearer of the jacket, but they sure did a lot for the manufacturer’s brand awareness. Why every time you saw one of those coats, you knew exactly what company’s jacket it was.

The name of the brand was chosen to give shoppers a sense of belonging to an exclusive club. Exclusivity in our culture tends to be held in greater esteem than inclusivity. If everyone can join, what makes a club special?

Tradition Three, however, turns that idea upside down. Instead of making OA a chummy old-boys network, a fraternity with hazing rituals, or an underground scene for hipsters in the know, our founders and AA’s founders before them, chose to accept members with open arms. People suffering from the misery of addiction don’t have time for secret handgrips, they need a solution now before the rest of their life turns into their death. When we are foggy with food, the window of willingness might not stay open long enough for us to learn arcane truths that allow us to pass onto the next level of mastery.

So in OA, we throw our arms around the whole world. If we want to stop eating compulsively, we41 can join. We don’t even have to want it all the way. Even a wisp or fleeting notion does the trick. Anything to get us into a seat at our first meeting.

We often hear members open their sharing by saying, “I want to claim my seat.” From the point of view of Tradition Three, we are never obligated to claim anything other than our desire to stop eating compulsively. And even that claim need only be to ourselves. No one in OA will be quizzed about that desire. The desire, though shared by many, is ours alone. The very act of sitting down at an OA meeting is claim enough on our seat.

While a desire to stop eating compulsively is all we need to get in the door, it’s easy to get off track and walk back out the door. Tradition Three ensures that when we return, we will once more be taken in lovingly and without question. We will not face a panel of questioners when we come back through the door. No one can tell us that by leaving we forfeited the claim to our seat. Quite the opposite! Typically, returning members find their seat kept warm for them by their OA friends.

Of course, this Tradition carries with it responsibilities. Individual members must uphold this Tradition so that future members will be similarly welcomed. To do so, we greet newcomers warmly and give them some sense of how OA operates. Just as was done for us. At the group level, when tensions arise at a business meeting or out of the behavior of a single member, we do our best to observe principles, not react to personalities. We remember that are all chronically ill, and that we once displayed behavioral difficulties, just as the disruptive member may be doing. We avoid legislating members out of our group or putting up psychological walls between “us” and “them.”

Because in the end, thanks to the imperative magnanimity of Tradition Three, we all have an equal claim on our seat, and no claim against anyone else’s.


Step of the Month: The 1-2-3 Waltz

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

Music fans, know the waltz tempo well: ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. It’s characteristic of “The Blue Danube Waltz,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Norwegian Wood” among numerous favorites. Many folks in OA know that tempo too. They get a food plan for Step ONE, think earnestly about Step Two, get stuck at Step Three. Then they eat compulsively and repeat the whole thing over again and again. ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three….

Why does this 1-2-3 Waltz happen? Of course, every OA member is different, but there are some guiding principles that might help us if we find ourselves dancing these Steps.

The whole concept of Step Three is surrender. We’ve reached a point where it’s do or die. If we go on the way we’ve been living our lives we will die from the inside out. We’re mostly dead spiritually already, our emotions feel lethally out of control, and if our bodies haven’t already begun falling apart they soon will.

In nearly every culture, men and women are taught to be self-sufficient, to solve their own problems, and to stubbornly resist help lest we show weakness, lose face, or put someone out. We are not naturals at accepting help. But man oh man do we need it. In this terrible predicament, Step Three asks us whether we’re willing to make a decision to let our Higher Power not merely lend a hand but to run the whole show.

This is not a decision where we are saying, “I, for one, welcome my new spiritual Overlord.” Instead we are saying, “If I bang my head against this wall anymore I’ll spill my brains. I’ll give try this last-ditch Higher Power thing my best shot because it’s my last hope.” In other words, Step Three is a practical, hard-headed decision. We don’t make it because we think it’s a good idea, we make it because we know there’s no better alternative, and we’re going to die from compulsive eating.

In that light, the do-or-die, it’s not so complicated. We don’t even have to become sudden supplicants. All we must do is decide to let our Higher Power show us a better way by actively doing the remaining Steps. Even if we are doing the Steps to prove Bill W. or the Fellowship wrong (as has been heard at meetings from time to time), if we do them thoroughly and honestly, we will be shown a better way of life.

Still, it’s not a snap decision, and we may not be as ready as we think we are. If we’re in the midst of the 1-2-3 shuffle, something’s amiss. As one of our local members has noted, when someone gets stuck on a particular Step, it’s often because they haven’t quite wholeheartedly completed the previous Step, or some Step along the way. In the case of Step Three, there’s relatively few things we’ve been asked to do or accept before hand:

  1. We are powerless over compulsive eating.
  2. Our lives have become unmanageable.
  3. We are insane around food.
  4. There is Something more powerful than we are.
  5. That this Something is powerful enough to restore our sanity around food.
  6. That this Something would restore us to sanity if we reached out for help.

That’s pretty much it. We could go deeper and find nuances, but that’s the big picture in Steps One and Two. So if we struggle with Step 3, we can turn those six things into questions to answer from as deep in our hearts as we can:

  1. Am I powerless over compulsive eating? Or is there still some part of me that thinks I can control my food?
  2. Is my life unmanageable? Is my life a chaotic mess? Or must I control everything and everyone because I’m afraid of chaos?
  3. Am I insane around food? Am I obsessed with food? Do I do things that normal eaters don’t do?
  4. Is there anything out there more powerful than I am? Do I think that my mind is the most powerful thing out there? Or that because I can’t conceive of a Higher Power, one must not exist?
  5. Is there Something powerful enough to restore my sanity around food? Or am I terminally unique, such that other OAs’ Higher Powers can help them, but I’m beyond help?
  6. Would this Something restore me to sanity if I reached out for help? Let’s meditate on this last one a little longer….

It’s easy on that sixth question to confuse our self-worth with our actual worth. We may believe we aren’t worth saving. That we’re far too flawed, bad, ugly, stupid, fat, or whatever to be worth a reclamation project. But this negative self-talk is just our diseased brain trying to deceive us out of getting better so that it can continue to dominate us. But take a step back and ask this: If a friend in the same predicament asked whether a Higher Power would save them from compulsive eating, would we say, “Yes! You’re worth saving no matter what your mind might tell you!” Of course, and the same is true for us. We are worth no more and no less than our fellows, and we deserve to be freed from our illness as much as the next person.

If we are still listening to the 1-2-3 Waltz, it’s time to turn off the music. Whether we finally decide to make that Step Three decision or whether we go back to review Steps One and Two to make sure we’re solid, we’ve got to get off the dance floor and get better. Because we don’t want this song to be our funeral dirge.